On Campus

Hey look! Another university fell off a truck

Maybe we should just convert high school diplomas to degrees

One way to create more university spaces is to build classrooms, or erect new universities. Another is to just rename an existing institution a “university.” While Dalton McGuinty is not adverse to creating more classroom space, largely by shifting the classroom to the internet, his Open Ontario plan also includes a rebranding of the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), as a university. Well sort of. Judging from the proposed name change–the Ontario College of Art and Design University–suggests that OCAD will still just be a lowly college but also a swanky new university.

(editor’s note: OCAD received independent degree granting status in 2002)

This bipolar approach to naming institutions is something of a fetish in Canada. As is the presumption that renaming every college a university will somehow improve educational quality. For years, British Columbia designated several schools as “university colleges” before renaming them universities in 2008. The name change, of course, didn’t bring with it any new expectations for the institutions.

More weirdly, last spring the Manitoba government gave William and Catherine Booth College, the right to market itself as “A Christian University College” despite the fact that the school has no plans to include the word “university” into its title. Advanced education minister, Diane McGifford, defended the decision by dismissing concerns that Booth College has been granted amnesty for lying. “They’re using the term university college solely for the purpose of advertising,” she said at the time.

We use to take universities to be institutions that offered a broad range of degree programs and research in at least the core arts and science disciplines. Now we take the term to mean any institution that offers a degree in anything. I don’t intend to diminish OCAD, but is a specialized school that only offers degrees in fine arts and design. If it were an American institution, it would be a college, and it would not feel too bad about it.

To be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a college education. Colleges are not inferior to universities, but they do have different goals, and this name game is little more than a gimmick designed to confuse.

Sometimes schools evolve and become legitimate universities (Ryerson for instance) but the problem isn’t so much with what we call schools, but with the fact that all you have to do to elevate your institution is lobby the province. The same way one might lobby city council to change the name of a street.

Rebranding allows the government to say it is creating more university spaces, without actually having to do anything. So I have a suggestion for McGuinty, if you think the proportion of Ontarians who are university educated is too low, why not just convert high school diplomas to degrees?  No good?

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